The Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs face off tonight at Toyota Center in a tantalizing clash of cross-state contenders.
Please forgive me for yawning at this particular iteration. The inevitable Marcus Cousin-Alexander Johnson matchup does not carry the same intrigue as, say, a Tim Duncan-Chuck Hayes encounter that might make the difference in a Southwest Division-deciding victory.
I love watching fringe rotation players hustle and sweat in the name of a roster spot, but I would be just as happy if Cousin and Johnson did so in Mexico City, Monterrey, Tulsa, Las Vegas, Rome, or Kansas City.
Mere mention of the word "preseason" brings to mind several adjectives and nouns for informed, long-time pro hoops fans: lassitude, feckless, and rag-tag. I have a cure for this early October boredom, and Commissioner David Stern should consider this a viable vaccine.
The owners would hate this suggestion at first. General managers and coaches would squeal. More than a few players would decry the notion. Yet, this idea makes a lot of sense for all involved.
Stern should siphon the preseason tilts for all 30 NBA franchises to cities without a pro basketball squad pronto. A number of teams do not air preseason games on TV in hopes that the inability to watch it at home will lead more fans to purchase tickets. I do not have access to the league's financials, but I can say with confidence that these warmup contests are not big money makers.
There are rare exceptions, and the Spurs will soon play in one. The team's brass scheduled a home date against the Miami Heat long ago, well before LeBron James and Chris Bosh defected to South Beach to join former Finals MVP Dwyane Wade. Pat Riley's staggering July coup, then, made this the most popular ticket in the Alamo City.
The Spurs hosted a free scrimmage Sunday afternoon that coincided with the release of single-game tickets. The most advertised deal: get a free preseason voucher for every regular season ticket purchased. The offer, of course, excluded the Miami game.
Silver and black supporters will show en masse Saturday and some of them may stand up and cheer. The Oct. 9 contest figures to sell out. From San Antonio to San Fransisco, basketball enthusiasts want to see the Bosh, James, and Wade show.
Most of these glorified scrimmages, though, are played in front of sparse home crowds with all the fanfare of a neighborhood parade. Most season-ticket holders show because they prefer not to waste money. How many of them are jazzed about Cousin or Dee Brown in the starting lineup? How many of them plan to make the kind of noise that befits meaningful games?
Gregg Popovich leads the crowded pack of coaches whose biggest goal in the preseason is to escape it without any major injuries. Why should fans in NBA markets care much about the outcomes when the sideline chiefs do not and are open about it?
Just as Popovich wants to keep Manu Ginobili, Duncan, and Tony Parker upright, Rick Adelman craves the same fate for Yao Ming. The 7'6" center played his first game in more than 16 months Tuesday night against Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic. He missed all of the 2009-2010 campaign after reconstructive foot surgery.
Cancelling the preseason is not an option. Coaches and players need real game-action to test lineups, gauge individual and team progress, run plays, learn schemes, and work out kinks in advance of opening night. Popovich might consider it a necessary evil. Adelman might wish there were more than eight contests that do not count in the standings to use as rehab and conditioning opportunities for Yao.
Since teams need to play these games, why not do so in front of deprived fans who do not get to populate an arena 41 other times starting in late October?
Stern wants to build his brand and continue his league's globalization march. He vowed Wednesday the NBA would soon host tilts in Brazil. Africa could come soon after that. The L.A. Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves squared off in London. Each squad then flew to Spain and Paris, respectively, as part of Europe Live. These dates bring goodwill and excitement to a continent where basketball often comes in second only to soccer or rugby.
Globalization can also mean expansion within the U.S. Since Stern has no reason to add a 31st franchise, why not deliver more games to NBA-less markets here and let them fight to prove they can support a full-time squad?
Kansas City boasts a recently-constructed facility, the Sprint Center, and enough residents (475,830) to pack the arena a few times in October. The Oklahoma City Thunder will host the Heat there next week.
Tulsa boasts the state-of-the-art BOK Center. With a similar population, fans there might welcome more than one preseason joust. The former Detroit Shock moved to the facility last season. Attendance was less than stellar, but that rings true in most WNBA markets. That could change with more NBA dates.
Stern does not consider the Thomas and Mack Center on the UNLV campus a suitable pro basketball facility, but it can suffice for more than one preseason game. I bet players would not scoff at a trip to Las Vegas.
Most of the overseas events sell out fast. These shows, unlike the dull ones so common at venues like the Toyota Center, can become big money makers. Owners appreciate profits, don't they? Would Lakers fanatics gripe if they were forced to wait until Oct. 26 to see a game in person? Would Spurs followers do the same? Not likely.
Staging the entire preseason outside of NBA cities accomplishes two other objectives. One, coaches can better teach their teams how to handle foreign environments. An experience in Paris might lead to better results for a road team in a playoff match at the Staples Center. There are no guarantees, of course. The Timberwolves still stink.
Yet, an NBA court is an NBA court. The rims are the same. The length does not change. Is there a better way for teams to learn how to win away from home than to play away from home a lot? The camaraderie gained during these sojourns can become invaluable.
Preseason final scores do not matter, but folks in London and Beijing could not care less. They are thrilled to watch anything NBA-related. Coaches, then, can install toughness on the road as a critical component, while these enthralled spectators gawk at the supernatural abilities of the league's best.
Two, the full transport would make opening night in NBA markets matter more. Rockets PA announcer John Paul Stevenson will announce Yao in the starting lineup for the first time in a year tonight. That moment figures to draw the loudest roar. How much louder would the TC crowd get if the home opener against the Denver Nuggets was the true first time he suited up in Houston since he broke his foot in the 2009 playoffs?
The same reasoning applies in Miami, where the Three Me Egos merit a raucous ovation during player introductions at the American Airlines Arena. Stern could have toured his most ballyhooed squad around the world, or at least, the country. This suggested siphon would make sure, since preseason games are scheduled so far in advance, that selected metro areas, from Italy to Kansas, would net some high-profile games.
Tonight's Rockets-Spurs match—headlined by Ish Smith, Kirk Penney, Cousin, and Johnson trying to make those rosters—would qualify as "marquee" elsewhere. Here, it's old hat. Houston and San Antonio fans will wait until the regular season begins to view this with an intensive lens.
The Nets and Raptors will engage in a regular season match in London this season. The idea of more of these is troublesome. That is a misguided idea. Stern should not take away meaningful games from New Jersey and Toronto. Owners count on revenue obtained from 41 home dates.
If Stern wants to augment or accelerate his globalization plan, I think my idea makes more sense than European or Chinese divisions. Pau Gasol competing against several of his fellow Spanish national teamers in Madrid intrigues me. The Lakers and FC Barcelona tussle today. Fans can watch the game on ESPN2 at 1:30 p.m. central.
A preseason docket with many more of these international contests, along with increased NBA presence in places like Tulsa and Kansas City, could help me stifle these early October yawns.
Then, a Rockets-Spurs meeting just after the training camp doldrums would cause my mouth to open for a different reason.